March 29, 2013 10:09:21 AM
Focus is an essential part of athletics.
Whether it's staring down a pass rush, eyeing a soccer players movements while setting up for a penalty kick, or trying to read a pitcher's hands to determine what pitch is coming, Tyler Aldridge has faced all of those situations and has learned to tune out the distractions that prevent other athletes from being successful.
But last week Aldridge encountered a situation that tested his focus. On Thursday, Aldridge's father, Doug, a veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, was shot once under the left armpit while he was putting mail in the mailboxes at Providence Place, which is on William Roberts Road in New Hope. An ambulance transported Doug Aldridge to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in Columbus.
Tyler Aldridge had just completed a workout with his Delta State University baseball teammates and was about to go to practice when he had a moment to check his phone. He noticed his sister had tried to reach him several times, so he wondered why she was calling. When he reached her, Tyler Aldridge discovered what happened to his father.
"She told me dad was in an accident," Aldridge said. "At first, I thought it was a car wreck , but then she told me he was shot. I didn't know what to think. Your mind wanders and your belly sinks."
The fact Aldridge was nearly three hours away from Lowndes County in Cleveland complicated matters. He said he spoke to Delta State baseball coach Mike Kinnison to let him know what happened and received permission to go see his dad. When he arrived at the hospital, Aldridge faced another situation he didn't expect.
"When I got there, my dad was wondering why I was there and not at practice," Aldridge said. "It was crazy."
Tyler Aldridge said earlier this week his father, who was in the critical care unit following the shooting, had been moved to a different room and was doing good. He said his father was able to walk and to sit in a chair.
"I am glad he is OK and everything is good," said Aldridge, who is from Steens. "He is a strong man. It goes to show you man the man he is. He said you have to fulfill your obligations and don't need to come over here. I was just speechless. I was like what are you talking about."
Aldridge returned to Delta State and went 2-for-3 Saturday against the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Rain forced the game to be called in the seventh inning with the scored tied at 1. Aldridge's performance helped him extend his season-opening hitting streak to 27 games. His streak matches the record set by Clay Smith in 2005. No. 1 Delta State (22-4-1, 7-2-1 Gulf South Conference) will get back to action today with a series against the University of West Alabama.
For Tyler Aldridge, the return to game action will be a way to channel all of the energy he focused on his father back into baseball.
"I couldn't fathom (what happened)," said Aldridge, a soccer, baseball, and football standout at Caledonia High School who went on to play baseball at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba. "I don't know how I would have reacted if I got shot. Knowing it is my dad, I know he will be strong and have a strong recovery. It helped me a lot knowing he is in good spirits. It kind of broke me down I know because he wanted to be somewhere but he couldn't because of what happened. It was pretty emotional, and it has been an emotional week, but he is a strong man and he will come back with a fight."
The 5-foot-10, 184-pound Aldridge plans to do the same. The senior infielder, who was a preseason All-Gulf South Conference selection, leads the team with a .439 batting average. He also paces the team in hits (47), slugging percentage (.561), on-base percentage (.512), total bases (60), and times hit by pitch (nine). He is third on the team in doubles (eight) and second in RBIs (26). Kinnison said it isn't surprising Aldridge has had such a hot start to the season. A year ago, Aldridge played a pivotal role in leading Delta State to the Division II national title game. Aldridge came on late in the season to finish with a .321 batting average. He had 67 hits, 12 doubles, 23 RBIs, 81 total bases, a .388 slugging percentage, and a .381 on-base percentage.
"He certainly was a good player for us last year," Kinnison said. "I thought the hitting turned up quite a bit at the end of the year through the toughest part of the competition. That is one of the things that gave him a lot of confidence. I think that springboarded him into a good situation this year and he has continued that and has been our most consistent offensive threat this year."
Kinnison attributes a lot of Aldridge's success at the plate to his competitive attitude. He said Aldridge has matured and does a better job of not giving at-bats away. He said Aldridge's focus allows him to be disciplined and aggressive.
Kinnison said that focus has helped Aldridge work through an ordeal with his father he knows has been difficult.
"He is a mentally tough kid," Kinnison said. "He is hard-nosed and he is a great competitor. No matter who it is, those kind of situations are devastating. When it occurred, it certainly was one of those situations that shakes you and brings you back to reality and what is really important. Thankfully, his dad seems to be recovering from it and it is a great lesson because it could have been a lot worse than it was."
Kinnison said he and his coaches and the rest of the Delta State family were there to support Aldridge through the initial days after the shooting. He feels the team's practices and daily routine helped a little in serving as an outlet for Aldridge as he dealt with his father's recovery. That process will continue this weekend as Delta State returns to the diamond to protect its No. 1 ranking in the latest College Baseball Newspaper Division II Top 30.
"The key was he knew his dad was going to be fine and he was in no immediate danger and he was able to re-direct his thoughts," Kinnison said. "Tyler is a person of faith, and he relies on his faith in those situations to draw that inner strength. Athletics is a great training ground to get you to handle different kinds of adversity. You have to work your way through them and persevere through them. He relied on his faith and the ability to, as you said, separate some things and be mature about it."
Aldridge thinks he might have had a double-digit hitting streak in high school, but his current run isn't something that concerns him. He said his goal is to go one pitch at a time and to compete as hard as he can to do his job. He said he would rather go hitless in a game and have his team win than go 4-for-4 and have Delta State lose. The trick now, he said, is maintaining that focus on and off the field as Delta State continues preparations for what it hopes will be another long postseason run.
If Aldridge said he will think about his father if he needs a reminder about strength and focus.
"The thought of my dad is in the back of my mind, but I want to unleash it on the field," Aldridge said. "I was telling my teammates after we played Christian Brothers (earlier this month) that actions speak louder than words and about just going out and playing the game hard and unleashing the anger and everything built up inside. It kind of helps. Being able to unleash it in an at-bat or a ground ball, it helps with me. That is how I go about things. I try to unleash it on the field and play for my dad, this program, coach Kinnison, and all of the coaches. That is one reason I take the field."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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